Take charge of your leadership fears

Tips on how to lead even when you are afraid.

Failure isn’t your enemy
Fear of failure is a weight that most leaders have to grapple with, even the experienced ‘good’ leaders. It’s not that they don’t feel the fear; it’s just that they’re aware of it and have decided deal with it effectively. Failure might not be the desired outcome, but they know that failure isn’t their enemy. Rather it is a stepping-stone towards success. How else will you learn what to do? It’s what one does after a failure that determines the future. So instead of letting the fear of failure get the better of you, cultivate a calm disposition that will help you take practical decisions when faced with uncertainty.

Fearing criticism
Those who are ruled by this fear tend to become the kind of leaders they think people want rather than the leader they inherently are. Accept the fact that you will be criticised in some form or the other no matter what you do. Different perspectives and beliefs mean criticism is part of a leader’s life. Those who are open to criticism are in a better position to foster an honest dialogue. Criticism is also seen as a way for colleagues and team members to hold leaders accountable for their actions. So it’s part of a healthy process. Also, leaders who are open to feedback and willing to accept criticism often benefit from more trust from their subordinates.

Being a perfectionist
Those who are driven often fear being anything less than perfect and aren’t very accepting of their flaws. This fear and their attraction towards idealistic standards make work a difficult and dangerous place—for themselves and others around them. Good leaders understand the need to own their imperfections and embrace flaws as a part of being human. Be honest with your team and let them know upfront what they can expect from you and what you expect from them. Be realistic on both counts and mention strengths as well as shortcomings. You are not weak for showing your vulnerabilities; rather doing so will help you gain their trust and respect.

This is phrase invented by Princeton University philosopher Walter Kaufmann, and refers to the fear of making the wrong decision. It can be a scary prospect for leaders who have to make decisions, big and small, constantly. If it’s let loose this fear will affect your mental health and lead to lack of clarity and direction. It will make you either postpone decisions or depend on others to make them. Both signal a lack of control. Conscious, focussed action is one way to deal with decision paralysis. Take it one step at a time and learn to trust yourself. Evaluate the risk and be prepared for the worst-case scenario. Knowing you are prepared will help you better handle the situation. The key is to remember that not making a decision is the worst of all the options.

Fear of public speaking
This is one of the most popular fears among people in general. It often doesn’t matter whether the audience is ten people or a thousand. You fear making a mistake and appearing foolish. It’s a matter of maintaining your image and authority, and it’s natural to fear being vulnerable, but don’t let the fear hold you back. Your best bet is to rehearse thoroughly before facing your audience. Practice your enunciation and use conversational language so as to make it easy for you to connect with people. There are a number of TED Talks out there on mastering public speaking. Go through a few, make notes and hone your skills. And even if you do stumble, remember you’re only human, and the audience will see you that way as well.

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